Borealis Beat

A glimpse into the mind of our Artistic Director as she shares her knowledge and expertise on our music selections, the composers, artists, concerts, and more

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Musical Magic for the Holidays

Flutist Doris Dungan and pianist Heather Morrison weave a spell of musical magic throughout as they perform for us as a collaborative duo. They last enthralled Consortium’s live audience with their ‘Enchanting Flute’ concert of September 2018, and we are most pleased to welcome them back!

Doris first appeared with Consortium in our second season, 1980-1981, the year she joined the TBSO. She made her mark in our first ‘Music at the Court of Frederick the Great’ concert, appearing in costume along with symphony musicians Penelope Clarke and Colleen Gibson. Heather was our harpsichordist in our very earliest years, but later appeared on piano as we moved past the Baroque era.

Doris moves and delights through her ravishing tone and impeccable performance, especially evidenced in the poetic, wafting, ethereal strains of Debussy’s evocative Syrinx for solo flute from 1913. This piece was originally written as incidental music to the French play Psyché, whose main character, the mythological Greek nymph by that name, was pursued by Pan, the rustic, satyr-like god of flocks and shepherds. His instrument, the syrinx, otherwise known as the panpipes, was made of hollow reeds, and produced a plaintive sound when wind blew through it, hence, the name of Debussy’s miniature piece. The flute repertoire in France, from the second half of the nineteenth century onwards, embraced a new French school of flute playing, making use of continuous vibrato to lend expressivity. The promotion of this new sound was centred around the Paris Conservatoire, where Debussy studied. French composer Mélanie Bonis, born in 1858, the same year as the opera composer Puccini, also studied at the Paris Conservatoire, and was in some of the same classes as Debussy. She wrote over 300 works in the late-Romantic style, and changed her name to Mel to avoid discrimination in a male-dominated world, in which it was thought that composition was not a suitable profession for a woman.

We will hear the first two movements of her lovely four-movement Sonata for flute and piano, written in 1904. The opening Andantino con moto exudes calm, peacefully flowing with a gentle piano accompaniment, quietly rippling at places. The Scherzo that follows is lighthearted and slightly impish, as it playfully bounces along. Her music was influenced by important French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, who in turn praised her work. Doris and Heather have a special desire to assemble concerts made up exclusively of works composed by women; they have performed two such recitals at the LUMINA Concert Series at the Lakehead University Department of Music, and hope to continue with this mission.

Frédéric Chopin’s name is synonymous with solo piano music, and in fact was known as “the poet of the piano”. He was born in Poland in 1810, but he moved to Paris at the age of 21. It is little known that from his youth, Chopin was a fan of Italian opera, particularly bel canto. Doris and Heather include a pleasant set of variations on the theme ‘Non piu mesta’ (‘No longer sad’), from Rossini’s opera La Cenerentola (Cinderella). It commences in a capricious fashion, then moves into triplet figurations. A slower variation in the minor mode reinforces the element of sadness. However, the flute regains joy, and becomes progressively more virtuosic in the two variations that follow.

We could not conclude a true “Holiday Potpourri” without a tribute to the season! R. Vaughan Williams’ gorgeous ‘Fantasia on Greensleeves’ very aptly fits the bill. It is based on a popular Elizabethan broadside ballad from 1580, “Ye Ladye Greene Sleves”, and is a love song. Shakespeare refers to the tune twice in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Its Elizabethan words were “Alas my love you do me wrong / To cast me off discourteously”. The claim that Henry VIII wrote this for Anne Boleyn is false, since the music dates from a somewhat later period. Vaughan Williams originally used this in his opera Sir John in Love; he authorized another to arrange it for string chamber orchestra with harp and optional flutes. The folk song ‘Lovely Joan’ is inserted into the middle section. Doris and Heather are performing yet another arrangement, with Heather impersonating the harp!

The melody, which also formed the basis of variation sets over the centuries, will be familiar to most as the Christmas carol ‘What child is this’, those words having been added in 1865. A more secular New Year carol exists set to the Greensleeves melody, with the words “The old year now has fled away”, ending with the merry company drinking to the health of all.

And with that note, we wish you the very best for the holidays, good cheer, and hope for a safe and healthy New Year!

Warmly,
Elizabeth

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